Sunday, 27 February 2011

The Dove from Above

Yesterday was a day of twitching with Andy, Malc and Nobby. Guess where we went first?

The Oriental Turtle Dove in Chipping Norton of course! After parking up in the town centre, a short walk to The Leys, and down the hill to the fabled number 41 where the bird had arrived once again in the back garden.

No queue outside the house this morning! Sometimes it pays to bide your time a bit. But notice the pile of boots, shoes and tripods outside the front door. On entering the house there was a kitchen full of birders looking out through the patio windows, where the bird was sat in a bush.

Frustratingly the sudden change of temperature, from the cold of outside to the warm inside, caused my binoculars to steam up. So even though you knew it was the Oriental Turtle Dove, and albeit a chest-on view, it could've been a Collared Dove for all you could tell. You'd want a better view than that, but you're also wary that other people are coming into the house and also want a view. So it was decided to make way and try again a little later.

All was not entirely lost however, as one clever chap managed to set up his scope along the drive at the side of the house, and had managed to get a view of the Dove. That was a much improved view, as you could now see the bird's marking along the back and side of the neck.

After a short break and returning to the house, much better views of the Dove were had, as the bird fed on the lawn and perched on a pole for a while. That's better! And with that, we left Chipping Norton and what must be the oddest twitch I've ever done. To go into a complete stranger's house to see a bird is a strange experience. But the homeowner, Steve Akers, was very friendly. Many thanks to him and his family from me, and I'm sure a lot of birders owe them a lot of gratitude.

Looking through the pager, there was also a drake American Wigeon in Oxfordshire, but we also had an eye on a White-tailed Eagle at Old Basing, just outside Basingstoke in Hampshire. Now once you're on the A34 in Oxfordshire and past Newbury, Basingstoke isn't all that far away.

So a quick try for the Wigeon first, at Rushy Common just south-east of Witney (which happens to be the constituency of someone called David "call me Dave" Cameron!). I'm not sure we had the right spot in the end, as although we found a flock of Wigeon, no sign of the American Wigeon. There was a redhead Smew though.

But never mind, lets try for the Eagle. Eventually arriving at Blacklands Farm, just outside Old Basing.

There were a group of birders already present, including a famous face who was featured in a BBC4 documentary a few months ago. George Michael I think his name was, or something like that?

Anyway. Over the course of the wait around the farm there was plenty of birdlife to be seen. At least a couple of Red Kites flying around and plenty of Buzzards, 3 Little Egrets in a field and a large Chaffinch flock which contained a female Brambling and a couple of Yellowhammers, and duly attracting the attention of a male Sparrowhawk. All the kind of stuff I would be pleased to find around home, but that's not the reason we're here.

After about an hour and a half, and one heafty shower, the sun came out and the immature White-tailed Eagle started to soar over the woodland. And what a magnificent sight it was too! I've seen them before, in Poland last year of course, and when I went to Mull in 2004. But the sheer size of them never ceases to amaze, as it was mobbed by Buzzards and Rooks, it just dwarfed the lot of them!

So a successful day, with a new lifer in the form of the Oriental Turtle Dove, and the first White-tailed Eagle I've seen in England. After all that, been a bit bushed today, so feet up and watched England v India in the Cricket World Cup, and Birmingham City beating Arsenal in the League Cup final.

Wednesday, 23 February 2011

Land of Confusion

The other week, as the Egyptian revolution was happening, I added the video of "Walk Like an Egyptian" by The Bangles. Who would ever have thought it would turn into a protest song and inspire a revolution?

If you watch that video, part of it features none other than Colonel Gadaffi of Libya. And I did think to myself at the time, I wonder if he's the next to go? And if so, surely it would be a much more dangerous situation? At moment, unfortunately that appears to be case, one for the UN to sort out.

But it did get me thinking, what other pop video has owd Muammar been in? I know, it's this one. Well, at least his Spitting Image puppet.

Sunday, 20 February 2011

A Load of Bull

This weekend didn't involve going to Chipping Norton to see The Dove from Above. If I want to stand in a queue all day, I'd rather go to Ikea!

If there's a twitch that fills me with dread, it's looking round people's houses and gardens. But at least twitching the likes of Baltimore Oriole, Black-throated Thrush and American Robin didn't involve going into someone's house to look in their garden. That's just too weird. Although the mid-morning perch in a tree sounds encouraging. So maybe if it stays around for another week....

Anyway, to this weekend. You know when things are running out of steam a bit? Running out of new things to see locally for a year list? It's getting a bit like that now, and still some time away before Sand Martins, Little Ringed Plovers, Wheatears and Chiffchaffs start arriving.

Brookleys Lake yesterday was pretty quiet, although a drake Goldeneye and 3 Goosander were there but very little else. Andy's brief Med Gull at Uttoxeter Quarry had long since gone, but there were two welcome patch year ticks here, in the form of Shoveler and Stock Dove. It also looks like the wild geese have moved on, plus a drop in Goosander numbers.

And then to Blithfield. 17 Goosander in Tad Bay, then another gull roost attempt didn't pick anything out of the ordinary. In fact, a lot of gulls appeared to be stood in fields behind Ten Acre Bay, waiting for the fishing boats around the deep end to be moored back at the angling club.

As for today, thought I'd try my luck at Branston Gravel Pits for a change. Which wasn't too bad a selection. There was a Ruff, a Green Sandpiper, a Woodcock flushed from the footpath, 2 Redshank, 1 Little Egret, 7 Shelduck. Also a sighting of Stuart the Alrewas Birder as I got back to the car. And with that, and a quick check of Croxall which didn't amount to much, I went home.

But there was a surprise when driving through Uttoxeter. If you ever happen to be passing by, two new metal sculptures have been erected on a couple of roundabouts, near to Tescos and the railway station. They weren't even there yesterday! This is one:

Is it a Centaur or a Minotaur? Can't remember now. Whatever it is, it looks like it's playing air guitar! But better still:

You can't beat a bit of bully! And if you're thinking, is it bull or a cow? Looking at the other end, it's definitely a bull. He's a big lad!

Sunday, 13 February 2011


Sunday 13th February

Another wet and windy day, not the best conditions for Uttoxeter Quarry. As much as I enjoy going, there's nowhere to provider shelter from the elements. And a visit yesterday produced 2 Oystercatcher, 1 Dunlin, 2 Snipe, 2 Curlew, in addition to the 2 White-fronts and 1 Pink-foot, and all the other usual duck.

So when the pager mentioned a female Red-breasted Merganser at Blithfield this morning, that's where I went. By the time I arrived the bird had moved from Admaston Reach and into Tad Bay.

It definitely looked better through the scope than my digiscoping would suggest. Also good comparisons could be made with the Goosanders present. Also a Dunlin in Tad Bay.

Well, I did want to try the Blithers gull roost, but with a few hours to kill, thought I'd try somewhere else. So I went to Croxall, with another hide to keep dry in. But first, a little further down the road, the five adult Whooper Swans were still around. Here's four of them anyway.

With the Whoppers done and dusted, over to Croxall Lakes. A wander down towards the hide, a first scan of a raft of Tufted Duck and Pochard. "Ooh hello, a duck asleep with black head and grey back?" I thought, better get the scope up. On closer inspection:

It's a drake Scaup alright, not one but two, result!! And in time-honoured tradition, a typical Scaup pose! The bird on the right seemed to have more of the cinnamon-brown tinge along the flanks, so that would a first-winter. But I wouldn't be surprised if both are first-winters and the adult plumage is now emerging. But with these two and the Merganser, a real sea-duck day!

I wonder if the weather has brought these Scaup in? Or maybe they've been around for a while and just gone unnoticed? Probably the former, but as they did at Uttoxeter Quarry, Brookleys Lake and Rocester last year, wintering Scaup can stay faithful to a site/area for quite some time. Also around Croxall were 5 Redshank, 1 Oystercatcher, 4 Shelduck and 4 Goldeneye.

And with that little victory, back to Blithfield for the gull roost. Despite a wise position in one of the shelters around St. Stephens Bay, we couldn't pick anything out of the ordinary. But after a decent find with those Scaup I wasn't too worried.

Friday, 11 February 2011

They're Falling Down like a Domino

Before some birding time this weekend. A tribute and a show of solidarity to the folks in Tahrir Square and throughout Egypt. Power to the people!

Well, it was either this or "Night Boat to Cairo" by Madness. Oh what the heck....

Sunday, 6 February 2011

What does this button do?

The new camera was picked up and taken home for a bit, just to try and work out how you work it. Plus the complicated stuff, like threading the strap and the lens cap!

Like a schoolboy with a new toy, I was itching to go out and give it a practice. But there was one slight problem, it was the wettest day ever! I didn't want to get the camera rained on and break it on the first day. So where could I go to take some pictures but stay dry? I know, the conservation pool at Tittesworth, behold!




Er, etc, you get the idea! There are still buttons and wheel-dial-thingys on it that I don't understand yet, and I haven't dared to press the red button!

As for today's birding on a much drier but very windy day. Not a lot of opportunity to get the camera out, or the old one for digiscoping. 6 Goosanders at Croxden Quarry, 9 Goosanders at Brookleys Lake.

And as for Uttoxeter Quarry, a pretty similar selection to last week. 2 White-fronts, 1 Pink-foot, 46 Goosander, 3 Goldeneye, 11 Pochard, 110 Wigeon, 22 Teal, 2 Curlew, 1 Green Sand. There was a Shelduck though, first one I've seen this year. But other than that, a bit like Groundhog Day. Which incidentally, passed in the week (2nd February of course), and Punxsutawney Phil has predicted an early spring.